Derrick Rose is expected to return this season. Precisely when that will be, no one, not even Derrick Rose or his physicians know. One thing we all know, though, is that when he comes back it will have an impact on the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have had periods of lackadaisical play. That won't happen with Rose. Even Rose's harshest critics have never called him that. The team itself rides his intensity. You simply don't see lackluster performances when he plays. In fact, this might be the reason to have him on the bench now. His competitive fire spreads.
But beyond the impact on the team as a whole, there will an impact on his individual teammates. Here's a look at how the Bulls key players will be affected by his return.
The first and most obvious player who is going to be impacted is Kirk Hinrich, Rose's fill-in as starting point guard..
"Captain Kirk" has been better than his numbers (6.6 points and 5.5 assists per game) indicate in his second stint with the Bulls. In general, the Bulls have have been better while Hinrich has been on the court.
NBA.com's advanced stats reveal an interesting perspective.
They score two more points per 100 possessions and yield 1.5 points fewer. They shoot better, rebound better, have a higher assist rate and are less likely to turnover the ball when he is on the court. His direct play doesn't indicate his contribution, but his these stats indicate he makes the team better.
He'll help to stabilize an inconsistent bench. When the Bulls need a defensive stopper, they may rely on Hinrich to play at the shooting guard, depending on the opponent.
Richard Hamilton might be the player who will experience the most change when Derrick Rose comes back.
The return of Rose will mean a bit of a glut in guards with Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Hamilton, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague all vying for time.
Hamilton's contract is the most movable because it's not guaranteed for next year. This has led some to believe that Hamilton might be on the block, especially since moving him would mean the Bulls wouldn't have to pay the salary cap.
However, the Richard Hamilton trade rumors were given their last rites this week. Chicago Sun-Times writer Joe Cowley reports:
That doesn’t mean Bulls general manager Gar Forman won’t take calls, but he sure doesn’t sound like he’s making them. “No, no, Rip is a big part of what we’re doing,’’ Forman said when asked about the validity of all the Hamilton talk. “I think Rip’s been really good.’’
So if Rose comes back and Hamilton changes teams, the impact on Hamilton is pretty obvious. If Hamilton remains though, expect little to no change in Hamilton's game.
According to NBA.com his production was slightly better when he was playing without Rose last year as he shouldered more of the offensive burden. However, it wasn't statistically dramatic.
Expect more of the same this year. His numbers will decline slightly, but not dramatically.
Luol Deng has been a player who benefits tremendously when he's playing with Rose, particularly in terms of his three-point shooting.
Last year he shot 41 percent from deep while Rose was on the court compared to 34 percent while he was on the bench. The year prior he shot 34 percent with Rose to 24 percent without him. This is not coincidental.
Rose's first step is as explosive as anyone in the league. The moment he takes his first step, or even feigns it, the entire opposing defense is collapsing on him. This has a tendency to open up three-point shots for his teammates.
When Rose returns, expect Deng to improve from deep. This year he's hitting only .326, but if history is indicative he should be around 38-40 percent when Rose returns.
Additionally, some of the offensive pressure will be taken off of Deng, who is currently the Bulls leading scorer. That should give him the freedom to exercise more dominance on the defensive end of the court, where he is already one of the elite small forwards in the league.
Carlos Boozer is finally getting some traction with the Bulls, averaging 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds over his last eight games, easily his best stretch as a Bull.
He's done so by playing with new found aggressiveness. He's getting to the line 6.5 times per game, compared to just 2.6 before that. He's bumping underneath and playing with flat out hostility.
He's getting inside. Over the first 27 games of the season he averaged 3.25 made shots per game from within six feet. Over the last eight games, he's make 4.75. He's raised his field goal percentage from that range from .603 to.644 as well.
If Boozer can keep that aggressiveness, rather than retreating into "soft-Boozer", he'll be helped even more by Rose's return. Rose's mere presence should increase Boozer's efficiency in scoring. Simply being there will mean that more help defense coming over to stop Rose's penetration, which should leave more open looks for Boozer.
This will depend on how much Rose has developed his mental aspect of the game by watching. The Bulls passing in the paint and development of an inside-out game has been instrumental in the Bulls success without Rose. It won't mater if Boozer is open if Rose doesn't find him.
If Rose can supplement or compliment that game, without replacing it with his penetration the Bulls offense should be as potent as ever. More 20-point, 10-rebound games should be in Boozer's future.
Of course if Rose tries to force things, Boozer could be rendered to relative obscurity.
Joakim Noah should be helped the most by Rose's return, simply because he's the one most forced out of his comfort zone by Rose's absence.
Without Rose, Noah has been arguably the best facilitator the Bulls have. He has become something of a "point center" as a result. Among non-point guards, only LeBron James has more assists per game than Noah.
But the downside of that has been an increase in passing turnovers. At times Noah will force the ball, though it's usually by necessity, not choice.
Noah has also been shooting a lot more jump shots than he has in the past. In fact, he's already just four makes shy of having a career high in jump shots made per basketball-reference.com.
Rose's return should have a two-fold effect on Noah. First, it should take the onus off the passing of Noah. Second, it should mean fewer forced shots for Noah.
The most difficult thing to ascertain is what will become of the bench rotation once Rose returns.
While some speculate that Rose might start by coming off the bench, I don't think that's probable. It's far more likely he'll start and play limited minutes. Thibodeau is very much into consistency in rotations. He'd rather see Rose playing with the starters because that's what he'll end up doing.
The frontcourt rotation probably won't change much, although it's possible there will be some more minutes with Deng playing the power forward and Butler playing the small forward. It's unlikely that will be meaningful minutes though.
Provided Richard Hamilton doesn't get traded, he'll still start.
More of a concern is who gets squeezed out of the rotation. Kirk Hinrich is ahead of Nate Robinson on the depth chart so he'll get the backup point guard minutes.
That leaves Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson. Of the three, Belinelli should see the most minutes as he's the one with the best three-point shot, though Robinson isn't far behind.
However Tom Thibodeau likes length on defense and he'd be giving length on two positions if he were to put Robinson and Rose in the backcourt together.
Therefore the most likely scenario is that Butler, who has been a solid defensive replacement spelling Luol Deng, should get more minutes at small forward and Belinelli will get the predominate minutes at the shooting guard.
However, when the offense grows stagnant, expect Robinson to come in and bring in energy and scoring off the bench.
Marquise Teague and the newly acquired Dequan Cook will be seen only sporadically.